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Marilou Allen Receives NWCA Founders Award

On Nov. 6, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWCA) presented its Founders Award to Marilou Allen, director of Haverford’s Women’s Center since its 1982 inception. The award is a “special recognition of the pioneers who were the first directors of a college or university women’s center that has continued to serve students, faculty, and/or staff for at least two decades.”

Allen, who has worked at Haverford since 1981, also serves as director of 8th Dimension, the College’s community service organization. She was nominated for the award by Theresa Tensuan ’89, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Janice Lion, domestic programs coordinator for the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC). It was, in fact, Lion who flew to Cincinnati to accept the award on Allen’s behalf at the NWSA’s national conference when Allen wasn’t well enough to travel.

“I went, with the support of CPGC and the dean’s office, to represent Marilou as well as Haverford College,” says Lion. “Because of Marilou and the visionary leaders at the College in the 1980s, the Women's Center [created] an important space and voice for women entering a historically male institution. Marilou provided that voice and so deserved the recognition the Founders Award provided.”

Allen, for her part, is embarrassed about all the fuss that has been made over her. “It was overwhelming that [the NWCA] thought enough of the work I’ve done to give me the award,” she says.

Allen’s life has long been intertwined with that of the College. She grew up across the street and first worked on campus cleaning professor’s houses. In 1964 she helped start Serendipity Day Camp, an inexpensive summer camp for local families, on campus. (The camp first ran for nine years, was later resurrected in the 1980s, and still continues to this day.) She was then hired to direct 8th Dimension, the College’s public service office that offers students the opportunity to get involved in the larger community, in 1981, and only a year later was also tasked with establishing the Women’s Center. This was shortly after Haverford’s transition to coeducation, and so Allen helped create a safe space on campus for its new female residents.

Today, the Women’s Center is located in Room 209 in the Whitehead Campus Center, and offers a comfortable place where students can hang out, watch movies, check out books, and hold meetings. The Center, which is staffed by student interns mid-day and most evenings seven days a week, publishes a newsletter (“Our Voice”), sponsors events, and runs the Student Assistants hotline, which provides support and information to those who have experienced or witnessed sexual assault. Recently the center has amended its name, replacing the possessive comma in its moniker with an asterisk to emphasize that the Women*s Center is a resource for all members of the Haverford community regardless of their gender.

Though she prefers the attention be on the students, Allen does proudly note that her 31-year tenure at the Haverford Women’s Center seems to be a record. (Lion reported back from the NWCA conference that none of the other longtime directors in attendance had served that long.) And, despite “the fuss,” she was quite moved by the NWCA’s recognition of her service.

“When I received my honorary doctorate from Haverford [in 1999], I thought that nothing could top that moment,” says Allen. “But this comes close.” --Rebecca Raber


The Strawbridge Observatory at Haverford College houses 12-inch and 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes which are actively used by students in Haverford astronomy classes.

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